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Oxford’s Fr Philip on of the last flights from Nepal after charity Everest trek

Retired vicar Fr Phillip Nixon is back in his home in Botley, Oxford, after catching one of the last flights out of Nepal after climbing to Everest’s South Base Camp for Christian Aid.

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Help mothers to escape poverty with Christian Aid’s Christmas appeal

Christian Aid is urging the churchgoers in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire to give generously to its Christmas Appeal, so women – particularly mothers – around the world can live full lives free from poverty, oppression and discrimination.

Ranjita and her daughter. Photo: Christian Aid.

Ranjita and her daughter. Photo: Christian Aid.

At the festive season approaches, Christians remember how, against all odds, one mother’s bravery and devotion brought her family out of danger. Today, gender inequality is a major cause and effect of poverty. It is estimated that one in three women experience gender-based violence within their lifetime, and women are four per cent more likely to live in extreme poverty than men. Approximately one third of married women in developing countries report having little or no say over their own healthcare.

“It is not right that women are still disproportionally affected by poverty, discrimination and violence.”

In India, poor and marginalised Dalit women – the most excluded of the caste system – account for 95 per cent of the 1.2 million ‘manual scavengers’. Every day, they endure hours of degrading work that involves the removing, carrying and cleaning of human excrement from latrines and sewers in return for scraps of stale bread and a few rupees.

These women are trapped in a generational cycle of manual scavenging, a practice that is technically outlawed in India, but keeps them trapped in poverty. Amanda Khozi Mukwashi, Chief Executive of Christian Aid, said: “It is not right that women are still disproportionally affected by poverty, discrimination and violence. If we give women the opportunity, they can be stronger changemakers who can transform our world. We all have God-given gifts we can use to help others – and ourselves. Women have the power to liberate themselves, their families and others from oppression; to challenge inequality; and to seek justice. Every one of God’s children has the power within them to change their lives and achieve wonderful things. They need a conducive environment to make it happen.”

Christian Aid’s local partner organisation, ARUN has helped millions of people in India break free from manual scavenging during the past decade by educating them about their rights, helping them to apply for government compensation grants, skills training, and giving them the chance to make a better life for themselves, and their families.

And you can get into the festive spirit early while supporting Christian Aid with the  Big Christmas Sing at Oxford Town Hall, from

 

Christian Aid’s Christmas appeal focuses on peace

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Carols, songs and Christmas cards all use the image of ‘peace on earth,’ but our world is far from peaceful

Stand together against the storms this Christian Aid Week

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MORE than 40 million people globally have been forced to flee their homes but remain in their own countries. Those are people like the thousands in Haiti who regularly experience some of the worst natural disasters on earth.

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Children urged to learn about Global Neighbours

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CHILDREN at Hazlemere CofE School in Buckinghamshire took part in the pilot of Global Neighbours, a new Christian Aid initiative.

The scheme, which is now being rolled out nationally, aims to help primary school children to tackle social injustice. The scheme has bronze, silver and gold levels to encourage youngsters to reflect on issues such as climate change and gender inequality.

Susan Brice, RE co-ordinator at Hazlemere, said: “The children chose to look at the situation with refugees. We investigated words like refugee, asylum seeker and migrant and put together a letter to our local MP Steven Baker about what Britain is doing about Syrian refugees.”

The children gave presentations in groups, looked at the idea of Jesus as a refugee when he was born and were delighted to receive a reply to their letter to Mr Baker.

 

Children give presentations as part of the Global Neighbours scheme.

Turn peas into profit this Harvest

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AS HARVEST approaches, Christian Aid is urging Christians to help farmers like Frank (pictured right) from Malawi.

Photo: Richard Nyoni

Frank found that, because of climate change, his traditional crop maize failed when the rains didn’t come, bringing hardship and malnutrition to his family. “It is very pathetic, as a father, to feel helpless like that, to feel like you cannot provide food for your children, and that there is nothing you can do to make them better when they are crying,” says Frank.

Christian Aid’s partner, the Evangelical Association of Malawi, has been helping Frank to grow a special variety of pigeon peas, a remarkable protein-rich crop and ideal for southern Malawi’s dry soil. They are forming farmers’ clubs, to learn business skills and plan their planting, which will ensure a good balance of crops and generate profits.

A fun Frank and the Pea Stalk fairy tale is a way of telling Frank’s story to children.

Limbering up to raise funds at the London Marathon

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RUNNERS from across the Diocese are in training for the London Marathon to raise money for charities.

Tens of thousands of people pass Tower Bridge during the London Marathon. Photo: Shutterstock.

The Revd Kate Stacey, the Vicar of the Wychwood Benefice in Oxfordshire, and Ben Schiffer-Harte, a teacher who worships at St Mary’s, Thatcham are both in training to run the iconic 26.2 mile race for Christian Aid on Sunday 23 April.

Harry Routledge, 37, will be running to raise funds for Parents and Children Together (PACT). The Revd Janet Binns, the Rector of Hedsor with Bourne End Benefice in Buckinghamshire, is running to raise funds for an audio system in St Nicholas’s Church in Hedsor. Harry and his wife Claire adopted three children through PACT, the adoption charity that has close connections with the Oxford Diocese. Harry is one of seven runners who will be taking on the challenge for PACT.

Harry said: “Adoption is not easy for all concerned, but it’s absolutely worth it. We have become the ‘Fantastic 5’ and owe part of it to the support we received from PACT, as well as the fact that we would never have been introduced to our daughters and son if it had not been for this charitable organisation. To adopt a sibling group of three children is tough, even more so when they are all under four, particularly at once, but they deserved to stay together.”

For Ben, 2017 will be his eighth marathon and fourth in London. He is training with Thatcham based running club Team Kennet and hopes to complete the marathon in three hours. “For any marathon runner this is a huge achievement,” he says. Ben says that since joining St Mary’s, he and his wife Jo have been made to feel very welcome and made good friends.
They have been involved in fundraising events, including a quiz for Christian Aid. “Fast forward four months and I received a Golden Bond (a guaranteed charity place) courtesy of Christian Aid. To top it off and make it even more of an incentive for people to sponsor me I am running the Paris Marathon only two weeks earlier.”

London will be Kate’s first marathon and she says that being the Sunday after Easter Day, it’s not perfect timing for a vicar. “Trying to carve out the time for training is getting tricky as the runs get longer, but it’s a good discipline.”

When she reaches the start line at London, Janet will be embarking on her 12th marathon. “I am aiming to raise £2,000. I usually train for a time of three-and-a-half hours. London is amazing because the crowds are fantastic.”

Fight poverty with soup this Lent

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PEOPLE across the Diocese are being urged to support Christian Aid by eating soup this Lent.

For example, in the Hambleden Valley, there will be a series of Lent Lunches to raise money for Christian Aid’s work.

Organiser Penny Mcleish said, “Over the years we’ve raised thousands of pounds to help people in

Michael with his grandson

need.” The money raised is used to help people like Michael, who lives in South Sudan, where 6.1 million people urgently need humanitarian aid as a result of the conflict that erupted in December 2013. Ongoing fighting has displaced 2.4 million people, and up to 5.3 million people are at risk of severe food shortages.

Michael, who is in his 70s and has gradually lost his sight during the past five years, fled alongside his family when government forces came to his village. Soldiers killed people and stole cattle, forcing Michael to flee to the swamp where he resided with his family for two months. When they returned, most of their belongings were gone, and they were left with next to nothing. With the help of fishing hooks and nets from Christian Aid, Michael is now able to take the younger generation to the swamp to teach them how to fish so they can continue to feed their community.

Phil Evans, of Christian Aid’s Oxford office, said: “We are asking you to reflect each day on the blessings in your life through Count Your Blessings, inspired by daily opportunities to give, act and pray for communities like Michael’s, helping them to find a safe place to call home.”
Christian Aid is working with people displaced within South Sudan, who are living in some of the hardest to reach places, to provide much-needed food, safe water and sanitation facilities and essential household items, including sheeting for temporary shelters, as well as fish hooks and nets so they can start to rebuild their lives and become self-sufficient.

Just £15 could provide fishing gear for a family like Michael’s; £8.50 could provide two cooking pots so they can eat a hot meal; and £3 could pay for two plastic jerry cans so they can store safe drinking water.

Serbian Marija Vransevic shares the plight of refugees in a visit to the Diocese of Oxford

by Jo Duckles

IN Aleppo their neighbourhood has been destroyed and the family have been forced to leave the ruins of their home for a refugee camp in Serbia.

Dad has managed to leave for Germany, but mum and children are left behind in the camp, desperate to follow. But with the borders closed the chances of the family being reunited is slim.

That is one of the scenarios that Marija Vransevic, from the humanitarian charity, Philanthropy, comes across during the course of her work. Philanthropy is run by the Serbian Orthodox Church and is Christian Aid’s partner in Serbia. Marija is a programme manager who oversees projects in refugee camps. She meets people who have faced war, beatings, blackmail and more and works to help them live with some dignity.

“I spend at least 30 per cent of my time in the field to understand what the needs really are. I then write reports to present those needs in a manner that is understandable to Philanthropy’s partners,” says Marija. She communicates with the Serbian Government, the media and other agencies as she tries to raise awareness of ways that they can provide help to refugees.

Marija spoke to me over a slice of home-made cake at Oxford’s new Christian Aid offices. She was visiting England to raise awareness of Philanthropy’s work as part of Christian Aid’s 2016 Christmas appeal:  Light the Way. The personal experiences of the refugees she has met were among the stories she shared with churches and student groups during a two-week tour of the South East. Since then 16,000 more residents have Aleppo have been displaced, according to national news reports, and the crisis is constantly escalating.

“It is a joy for us to be on the spot and to understand the challenges people are facing. It’s about not feeling sorry or sad for these people but to feel strength, to feel positive and not to get into the dark areas of misery and hopelessness. When you listen to the personal experiences of these people it can make you question the whole structure of the world and how people made decisions that led to so much misery.

“It’s a huge challenge to remain ourselves, to find faith and hope inside ourselves because they definitely don’t need our tears. It’s about supporting and strengthening them and helping them know there is a future and a good place, even if they have a lot of steps ahead of them.”

Marija described the importance of trying to help refugees maintain their dignity, and to react properly to their needs.

“They are safe in the camps in Serbia. They have proper healthcare protection, social welfare protection and proper food. We try and bring them an element of dignity as they can choose for themselves what they need. Certain colours are offensive in some cultures and we wouldn’t know that so when women for example ask for scarves to cover their heads we want them to choose their own.

“The vast majority of people in Serbia are coming from families that have been separated. Some are in central, western or Northern Europe. Some are still back home, so they are very upset and scared. They are slowly becoming aware that their expectations will not be fulfilled.

“It’s difficult to work with children. Most have been out of school for years. I feel even more upset for the teenagers. It’s easy to smiles on the faces of smaller ones, but once they are aged 13 to 15 they understand what it happening and how the parents feel. They can understand the media as well and they are the most vulnerable ones.”

The refugees in the camps are given activities. “We try and engage them not as beneficiaries but as implementers. There are young men and women in their early 20s involved with the food distribution. “

“I think we can help Christians to understand the real needs of refugees. The number is growing constantly so the scope of the crisis is hard to understand.

“Christian Aid has a strong policy of protecting human dignity, being present in the field, working with people and we are able to help people understand the needs directly.  It’s crucial for Christians from England and to understand what the life of refugees is like.”

Marija Vransevic who is visiting the Diocese to talk about the plight of refugees.

Marija Vransevic who is visiting the Diocese to talk about the plight of refugees.

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Emergency support for the Haitian victims of Hurricane Matthew

CHRISTIAN aid agencies are calling for emergency support for Haitians affected by Hurricane Matthew. Tearfund and Christian Aid have launched appeals to help their work on the ground in Haiti, where it is estimated that between three and five million people have been affected. The hurricane is the worst to hit Haiti since 1954 and comes as the country is still vulnerable from the earthquake of 2010.

Scenes of devastation in Haiti. Photo Marc Antoine/Tearfund.

Scenes of devastation in Haiti. Photo Marc Antoine/Tearfund.

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Scenes of devastation in Haiti. Photo: Marc Antoine/Tearfund.

Tearfund and Christian Aid have launched appeals to help their work on the ground in Haiti, where it is estimated that between three and five million people have been affected. The hurricane is the worst to hit Haiti since 1954 and comes as the country is still vulnerable from the earthquake of 2010.

Marc Antoine, Tearfund’s Haiti Advocacy Officer, said: “Food is scarce, clean water is scarce, but hope abounds. Roofs are gone, livestock are gone, but hope abounds. During my three days in Jeremie I have seen hope in the midst of devastation; it has been the hope of the victims that has reinforced my hope for Haiti.”

Marc Antoine, Tearfund’s Haiti Advocacy Officer, said: “Food is scarce, clean water is scarce, but hope abounds. Roofs are gone, livestock are gone, but hope abounds. During my three days in Jeremie I have seen hope in the midst of devastation; it has been the hope of the victims that has reinforced my hope for Haiti.”

Tearfund has been at work in Haiti for more than 30 years, especially in many of the poorest and most vulnerable areas. Along with local partner organisations, Tearfund has been working hard to make communities more robust – better able to withstand the effects of disasters like this.

Christian Aid partners have been working in Haiti for two years. In response to the latest hurricane they are distributing hygiene kits, including soap, dry food (rice, beans, corn), clean drinking water, water purification tablets, emergency shelter packs (including plastic sheeting), and metal sheeting, nails and hammers to repair roofs.

Christian Aid partners have been working in Haiti for two years. In response to the latest hurricane they are distributing hygiene kits, including soap, dry food (rice, beans, corn), clean drinking water, water purification tablets, emergency shelter packs (including plastic sheeting), and metal sheeting, nails and hammers to repair roofs.

A Christian Aid spokesman said: “We are very pleased to find that homes we had built in southern Haiti after the earthquake had survived the hurricane and are being used to shelter families who lost their homes to the hurricane.”

Moving forward from the Paris climate talks

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As the world looks to reduce its carbon footprint following December’s COP21 talks in Paris, the Door reflects and asks ‘what next?’ as churchgoers consider how to become more environmentally friendly.

One person who attended the COP21 talks was Mike Clark, a member of St Paul’s Banbury. Below he describes his experience. 

I have an investment management background, but on this occasion I attended as a representative of my profession, the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries. I was asked to contribute to a Roundtable discussion chaired by Carbon Tracker. This organisation has done so much to make carbon investment risk a financial reality – do check out their website! The topic was carbon-related risk disclosure and financial regulation. Contributors came from around the world and represented pension funds, regulators, investment managers, market index providers and academics. We shared perspectives – climate change has so many financial aspects.

Mike Clark, a member of St Paul's, Banbury.

Mike Clark, a member of St Paul’s, Banbury.

The build-up to COP21 had been positive and, although we were in a different venue from the negotiations, this positive feeling was tangible in all the sessions I attended at the Roundtable venue. Even arriving at Gard du Nord by Eurostar, I was greeted by welcoming COP21 billboards in the station. The French managed the whole event with diplomatic aplomb and Laurent Fabius, the COP21 President, was rightly lauded for his efforts, along with Christiana Figueres who led the UN work in the years leading up to the event.

Attending in a professional capacity, it was good to make the link between the earth, where we are all called to be good stewards, and the daily world of finance that I inhabit. More widely, many commentators have picked up on the role that Christians have played in raising climate change up the political agenda.

What of the future? I’d need a page or two to answer that question properly. So let me just note that one UK pension fund, earlier this year, adopted and published their investment policy which states: “Our objective is to ensure that our Fund’s investment portfolio and processes are compatible with keeping the global average temperature increase to remain below 2°C relative to pre-industrial levels”. They may be the first with such a policy, but they won’t be the last. So let us go forward in hope!It was a historic COP21, with governments sending a strong signal on climate change. The Paris Agreement will resonate down the years!

 

Pilgrimage to Paris

Jess Hall joined thousands of pilgrims as the Church of England, Christian Aid, CAFOD and Tearfund came together to organise a Pilgrimage2Paris ahead of the climate talks. 

Jess Hall, the Berkshire Regional Co-ordinator for Christian Aid.

Jess Hall, the Berkshire Regional Co-ordinator for Christian Aid.

Had I realised the impact on my feet, I would have sought out some kind of sponsorship deal with Compeed© for my two days on the Pilgrimage to Paris. But my hope for an ambitious and binding climate deal in Paris was stronger than the ache and pain of the many blisters I acquired on my journey through Surrey and Sussex.

I met up with the group of Pilgrims in Banstead, Surrey, their first destination after setting out from London that morning. Everyone was in good cheer and seemed to have taken the first leg of the journey in their stride.
It was a shock to wake up the next morning to the news of bombs and shootings in Paris, as you can imagine it cast quite a shadow over the joy and celebration of the previous day. Determined we walked on in solidarity and prayer for Paris and in hope of a world where light overcomes the darkness.

Everyone taking part in the Pilgrimage to Paris had a story to tell and as we trod the muddy paths and puddle ridden roads it was a huge privilege to hear some of them. Despite our different backgrounds, church experience and effectiveness of our waterproofs, what united us was the desire to see world leaders come to a meaningful agreement in Paris. We all wanted to see an agreement that would safeguard our planet’s future, bring liberation to the poor and a brighter future for our global community.
On our journey we shared a beautiful ecumenical communion and I was privileged to lead the intercessions. Amid our prayers for those reeling from the Paris attacks, for the world leaders at the COP 21 Climate Talks, and for strength for the journey we shared together this refrain:

We lift our eyes up to the mountains, where does our help come from?
Our help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.

This verse from Psalm 121 seemed to so perfectly speak into both our weakest and most passionate prayers for Paris, and for our world. I had tears in my eyes a few short days later as I watched the footage of 200 world leaders hugging and cheering as they announced that a deal had been reached. An agreement to limit warming to 2°C, pursue renewable energy and provide £100 billion in climate finance for developing countries. There is still a huge amount of work to be done and we must hold our leaders to account. There is also a huge amount to be celebrated, and much to thank the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth, for.

Jess Hall  is the Regional Christian Aid Co-ordinator for Berkshire. She is based in the Oxford Christian Aid office.

Become and Eco Church

Eco Church is an award scheme designed to motivate and resource churches to care for God’s earth. Launched in January, Eco Church replaces the Eco Congregation awards from the Christian environmental charity, A Rocha. To participate churches complete an online survey, indicating how they care for God’s earth in worship, teaching, buildings, and in the personal lifestyles of their members. Once they have amassed enough points they can qualify for Eco Church Awards at Bronze, Silver or Gold Level.

Dr Ruth Valerio, the Churches and Theology Director for A Rocha, says: “Caring for the whole creation should impact everything in our church lives and Eco Church is designed to equip us to do just that. We’ve been working really hard to produce this new scheme and I’m looking forward to it launching and to seeing which churches are the first to gain their awards.”

Here is the story of St James’s Church, Gerrards Cross:

The Revd Jenny Tebboth, who is now a curate in the Chalfont St. Giles, Seer Green and Jordans Benefice, was delighted to discover that St James supported A Rocha, but says it niggled her that, despite the church supporting A Rocha financially, creation care was not integrated into church life. Since then St James’s has worked hard to gain a first Eco Congregation Award. “Things are very different now,” she says: “Our recent eco-congregation work has been publicised in A Rocha News as one of the best submissions that they have received. Cindy Crump has taken over the job of A Rocha mission champion and will work with A Rocha and the St James’s ‘Love Creation’ team, who intend to work towards the next level of award.”
Cindy moved to Gerrards Cross and began worshipping at St James’s in 2013 and knew quickly it was the church for her.

And then the environmental projects caught her eye. “Sections of the church garden had tall grasses for the insects, bird and bat boxes were in the trees, and the bulletin indicated opportunities for helping with gardening at the church and walks in the area. I was hooked,” she says. I showed up at a meeting in the autumn of 2013 to talk about the church’s role in creation care. Our aim was to inspire each member of St James’s to work out what it means to care for God’s creation in their own lives, not out of fear or guilt, but to glorify God, and to take a decisive step towards making the operations of St James’s more environmentally friendly.”

Since then Dave Bookless from A Rocha has spoken at services, Life Groups have completed a study on creation care, the recycling collection in the church centre has been improved, Richard Trigg lovingly restored the bird nest boxes and the late Clifford Robinson and Cindy did a survey of the birds and butterflies in the church garden. Blogs on caring for creation have been posted and an energy audit of the church buildings has been completed.

Cindy adds: “Going forward, the ‘Love Creation’ team hopes to continue to mobilize the whole church family to play their part. We will issue ideas and tips to help them live more simply. We would like to find an experienced naturalist who can help with surveying the wildlife in the church garden. We have been looking at the church’s use of energy: we are changing the lights in the St James Centre to be more energy-efficient and brighter, and we’re looking to support A Rocha at Minet Park and other projects. We certainly want ideas from the congregation on how we can all care for God’s creation.

“We are really proud of this award. This has not been achieved by a few hard-working individuals, but by the efforts of many right across the church.”

Register your interest in Eco Church here. 

Book now for EWDC

IT is vital that the Church continues to play a role in the climate response. Experts and delegates from churches will be gathering in Coventry for the 2016 Ecumenical World Development Conference on Friday 15 and Saturday 16 April at the Central Hall. The event will be a chance to reflect on the theological and practical implications of the Paris agreement. Click here to book.

Reflections on the Reading climate day

by the Revd Liz Ratcliiffe

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The Revd Liz Ratcliffe, (right), with Ruth Valerio, is the Curate at Christ Church Reading, and organised the Reading Climate Day.

READING Climate Day in December was a great success, with people from churches, environmental groups and the wider community visiting the Minster for a series of green events. The morning kicked off with a dozen stalls – picked for their environmental and fair trade credentials – arrayed down each side of the aisle. A variety of green goodies were on display, from vegan truffles to pictures made from bits of twig and gemstones. There was something for everybody, and shoppers and stallholders alike came away happy.

In the afternoon, things took a more serious tone, with a talk on climate change, given by Met-Office scientist Professor John Mitchell. John made the complex science understandable to a varied audience, who listened avidly while enjoying beer provided by Reading’s Zero Degrees microbrewery. He stayed to participate in a very lively and good-humoured question-and-answer session afterwards.

The day ended with a specially-written Climate Mass, led by Bishop Andrew, with an inspiring sermon by one of the country’s foremost environmental theologians, Dr Ruth Valerio. Ruth left us all feeling that we had something to offer in the fight against climate change, and the congregation participated enthusiastically in a very moving act of commitment to a more environmentally-sensitive lifestyle.

The whole event took place against a backdrop of environmentally-themed prayer stations and information stalls run by green Christian groups such as A Rocha and the John Ray Initiative.

Famine risk in South Sudan

AFTER two years of conflict resulting in mass displacement, human rights abuses and a humanitarian crisis, communities in South Sudan are at breaking point. Experts say there is a concrete risk of famine occuring before Christmas, and Christian Aid is working hard to help people like William (right). William

William fled to Nyal when armed groups seized his livestock and looted and burned his home. Women were raped and many people killed. His sons brought him by canoe, a journey which took four days. Some members of the family have been left behind. William is staying with relatives until it is safe to return home. A Christian Aid partner is working with his family who will soon receive seeds, tools and other emergency items. Donate to Christian Aid here or call 01865 246818.